The boys are restless. It is the third night of summer vacation and the narrator and his two buddies have been doing too much of everything: drinking, cruising, and looking for trouble. In “Greasy Lake” by T. Coraghessan Boyle, the characters are boys trying to be seen as something that they really are not—tough guys.
The setting of the story is a lake near the boys’ hometown called Greasy Lake. It is apparently frequented by couples parking, making out and beer parties. It is a nice night about 2:00 a.m. The entire story is told as a flashback to an unforgettable night.
The reader never learns the name of the narrator, but the other boys are Digby and Jeff. The narrator, who is the protagonist of the story, describes his friends as "dangerous characters.” He boasts that, "we wore torn-up leather jackets, slouched around with toothpicks in our mouths, sniffed glue and ether and what somebody claimed was cocaine.”
The Dramatic Situation
The boys are bored and mistake a car for an identical one belonging to a friend. They decide to play a joke on their friend, thinking he is having sex with his girlfriend in the car. They start shining the lights and honking the horn of the narrator’s mother’s car. Quickly, the trio learns that this is not Tony’s car, but rather it belongs to one of the town hoods. Upset at the interruption, the guy induces the boys to fight.
The narrator thinks that he drops the car keys, so the three cannot get away. During the struggle, the narrator hits the bad guy with a tire iron. The boys believe that the bad guy is dead. Inflamed by the almost ritualistic, passing-of-age murder of a man, the boys set their violent sights on his girlfriend, entertaining the possibility of adding rape to their crimes.
”Before we could pin her to the hood of the car, our eyes masked with lust and greed and the purest primal badness, a pair of headlights swung into the lot. There we were dirty, bloody, and guilty dissociated from humanity and civilization…”
The boys spread out and hit the lake. The narrator walks forward a little ways and feels something odd. He hopes that it is a log. No, it is a dead body. The other car of people begin to yell and scream at the boys.
The narrator hears the voice of the guy that he thought he had killed, yelling and threatening the boys. Finally, he hears them destroying his car probably with the tire iron and then pulling away. When it is all clear early in the morning, the boys reunite and make a run for it to the car. They are stopped by women who drive up looking for the dead guy in the lake. The boys act like they know nothing.
The only things not destroyed on the car were the tires. They girls who are drunk offer to party with the boys. The narrator reveals that he only wants to go home and return to his parents. The events that occurred at Greasy Lake that night changed the narrator’s dangerous boys whole perspective on things; sometimes it was okay to be "Good Boys.”
These boys face some moral dilemmas and fail at almost all of them. They were really boys just feeling their oats. However, like the mistakes that were made in the Viet Nam War that the author refers to, these boys make some horrific ones that almost place them in real criminal trouble. They almost kill a man and rape an unknown female just because she was there. Hopefully, these young men will try to pay penance for their bad behavior.